The main purposes of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum are to tell the Seminole story and to care for the objects of the Seminole people. There are many formally prescribed ways the staff does these things at the Museum. Further, the team sees itself as a resource to the community. Sometimes that means using these technical skills in less formal ways.
Robin Croskery-Howard is the Conservator for the Museum. She likes to say her job is “Objects Doctor.” She makes sure the healthy objects stay healthy by monitoring the conditions in which they are stored and displayed. She also provides treatments to objects when they are brought in “unhealthy” or due to old age which makes them susceptible to developing problems while in the Museum’s care. These treatments are usually preventative in nature, but sometimes she needs to be proactive and fix something that has broken.
As a result, Robin is able to share a great number of tips with Tribal community members on how to care for their most precious items. Attending events such as the Senior Center lunches, she shares information on how to safely store these items, how to make lasting repairs, and who might also be able to repair the items in question. Sometimes, when her schedule allows and her skill sets are best suited, she is able to step in and make the repair herself.
Pictured here is Robin making repairs to a physical photograph. The photograph of cattleman Junior Cypress (who the Junior Cypress Rodeo and Entertainment Complex in Big Cypress is named after) had heat sealed to the glass of the frame. This happens frequently to photos when they have been in their frames too long, sometimes too close to a lamp or window. Robin had to carefully separate the image from the glass, and gently pull away the sealed portion from the image. Loss of emulsion, the top layer/ image part of a photo, is almost always inevitable. But here Robin was able to pull the lost piece away from the glass afterwards and perform a procedure called bridging. Using a very expensive Japanese tissue paper and creating a special kind of glue, she creates a piece of backing to stabilize the detached piece and affix it back to the original image. By using these very particular materials she not only fixes the image but ensures that it will stay intact for as long as the photograph exists.
Next Robin will still need to scan the image to make a few adjustments in Photoshop. You might ask, “well, why doesn’t she just do that in the first place?” Photoshop is great tool that can provide pristine copies and even ‘fix’ images through the use of filters. But, it only ever makes copies; the original will still need repairing. In some cases, this is fine. People are okay with getting a good copy instead of holding onto the original photograph. However, the staff knew the community member wanted to keep the original as well as have copies to share with others.
Our giant “Journey to a New Home” pinball machine or as I call it, “Pinball V. 4.0”, is temporarily in our shop for repairs and improvements. The pinball machine works much how the housing process works for Tribal Members – confusing and slighting frustrating. Although our design includes infrared, magnetic and vibration sensors, it doesn’t always react the way it was engineered to. Someone wittingly mentioned that the pinball machine has taken the personality of the housing process because sometimes it takes a really long time to push your housing permits through and sometimes your contract gets stuck and no amount of shakes will get the ball rolling again. With this new round of improvements our sensors will be more accurate and the lights blinking as the ball rolls down the ramps will be almost dizzying – much how the real process it, but this time it will be intentional.
We Are Here will be on view until the end of November 2019. Take a trip to our Museum and experience the frustration of going through the housing process on the reservation.
The Museum puts up, on average, six new exhibits each year. Many of the exhibits feature items from the collection or from artists and students within the Tribal community. However, one particular exhibit always focusses on important themes or aspect of Seminole culture. This year, the staff took on the interesting but weighty topic of Tribal sovereignty in the exhibit We Are Here: Voices & Hands Making Community Happen.
There are many ways to talk about the Tribe’s right to govern themselves and what that looks like. But, to keep it relevant to most visitors, the exhibit will focus on the way sovereignty appears in day to day activities. The exhibit will also look at frequently asked visitor questions and set about answering them, because these are often really just questions about how the Seminoles are both similar and different from the rest of American culture.
The questions answered are:
How does the community stay healthy?
How does the community stay safe?
How do Tribal members share information and knowledge?
How is housing developed for Tribal members?
How are the Tribe’s resources, water, and land managed?
This exhibit will share information on how these common human aspects are achieved in the Seminole communities with the assistance of the Seminole government. Interactive opportunities will allow visitors to understand how sovereignty is ingrained in daily activities and something all can participate in.
For instance, health is an important aspect of Seminole culture, an aspect that involves all generations. At the Boys & Girls Club, an after-school activity shows children how to build a healthy snack by teaching them to make parfaits and trail mixes using portion control. In the exhibit, We Are Here: Voices & Hands Making Community Happen, the exhibits team is making the “Build A Healthy Snack Interactive,” which gives visitors an opportunity to learn about building their own trail mix in healthy proportions.
Surely the Museum could have hired an exhibition fabricator to build such an interactive, but what is the fun in that?
Instead, the exhibits team gets the fun of gluing food to a board:
making molds of the food:
and then painting food!
Here is a planned drawing from the layout and design:
Come check out We Are Here: Voices & Hands Making Community Happen on June 11th. And don’t worry about the calories from the (fake) trail mix. There will be a tricycle interactive for you to try and see if you can beat the cycling time of Seminole seniors from their annual Trike Fest.
Objects, like people, sometimes need to visit the doctor. Museums strive to keep objects in their best health. But some objects, like the Archer who lives in the Village of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, will always require a little more healthcare than others. Because his purpose is to live outdoors, the Archer deals with the wind, rain, and curious kids. The Tribal members who sell and work on their crafts in the Village keep an eye on him. So do the maintenance staff.
Sooner or later, though, the Archer needs a bath or to have a few repairs to keep him looking fit and trim. This is when the object’s doctor comes in, or conservator, if you want to be fancy about it. The conservator will make the diagnosis and often apply the treatment. Sometimes she or he will need help from other specialists to complete the treatment. In this case, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s conservator, Robin Croskery-Howard, made her treatment plan and requested assistance from the Exhibits Fabricator, Nora Pinell-Hernandez. Below Robin and Nora share a little about the process that got the Archer back to his full health.
(Rebecca Fell) Tell us a little about the history of the Archer. Who made him?
(Robin Croskery-Howard) The Archer was created by artist Brad Cooley, who has created several other statues for the Tribe, including the bronze statue in front of the museum.
(RF)Robin, tell us a little about the problem the Archer was having:
(RCH) Like most outdoor sculpture, the Archer began to have a few issues after so many years outside. Over-exposure to water and sun can do a lot of damage. Many of the areas around his hands and the folds in his clothes were cracked and worn. He also had quite a lot of pigment loss to his legs and the top of his head. Other issues included general dirt residue, insect casings, and bird droppings. All of these had to be cleaned off before any other work could begin.
(RF) It sounds like he needed a spa day as well some assistance. Describe how you make your decisions and treatment plans for the Archer? How did you coordinate your care with Nora?
(RCH) When beginning a new treatment, it is always best to consult the latest information regarding a specific material typology or problem. Books are a great resource, as well as colleagues and professionals in related fields. After doing quite a bit of reading, a sponge bath followed by patching seemed to be the best option. I coordinated with Nora in regards to what should be done. I bathed the Archer with a special soap and water. She was able to research the best fiberglass for this sculpture and methods of application. Once clean, she applied the fiberglass and color-matched the areas that needed touchups.
(RF) Did you go back to the artist and request his help?
(RCH) When I first received the request to help the Archer, I was given the artist’s contact information. Unfortunately, by the time I began on the project in earnest (about a month later), the artist had passed away. It is always better when the conservator can have input from the artist in regards to the care of their artwork.
(RF)Nora, describe your process for us:
(Nora Pinell-Hernandez) Typically I work like a mad scientist in my (home) shop, mixing materials and colors to get the result I want. But the Archer is not an experiment – he depicts a Seminole warrior and needs to be treated with the utmost care. My first task was to research resins that would be used to compensate for large cracks on the Archer’s clothing
(RF) Tell us about resin:
(NPH) The resin has to withstand high humidity, be able to fill a hollow area of about 1/4”, sandable, adhere well to other materials, and not cause damage to the original material. We selected Aqua-Resin because it fulfilled all of these requirements but even better – it is a water-based, non-toxic resin. Don’t let the water-solubility fool you – Aqua-Resin is very tough when used with fiberglass and after leaving it out in the swampy environment for over a month it definitely won its place in our tool cart.
(RF) How about when you are mixing up the paint?
(NPH) Before I began work on the Archer, Robin and I tested the material on a small part of the big shirt. I then did another set of experiments using multiple grades of sandpaper to obtain the same smooth surface as the Archer. Next, I had to see how well the new surface took to the second most important aspect – the paint!
I used Gamblin paint which is a high quality acrylic. As a fine artist I have a knack for matching paint – probably from trying to fix all of the scratches on my own paintings (I’m a bit clumsy in my personal studio). Not only did I need to color match, I also needed to get the right sheen. The Archer’s clothing has a semi-gloss finish while the hands and face are less lustrous and the belt is a matte black. The Archer is placed under direct sunlight, making imperfections easier to spot which meant the texture and paint color had to look seamless. I hope that when you visit the Archer you will be unable to distinguish where the cracks used to be.
(RF) What is his purpose in the Museum?
(RCH) The Archer usually stands sentinel in the Village about half-way around our boardwalk. He is an example of what a mid to late 19th century Seminole man who was bow hunting would look like. His bigshirt and kerchief are both solid colored.
(RF) What other considerations did you keep in mind in getting the Archer back to health?
(RCH) We had to remember that the Archer was going back out into the same environment from whence he came. This means that he’ll be exposed to the same stressors, and will likely need an annual checkup next fall to ensure that he’s still in tip-top shape.
(RF) How did Hurricane Irma affect the Archer and his treatment?
(RCH) The Archer weathered Irma quite well, with only minimal damage. However, some of the process had to be repeated, due to the nature of destruction during a hurricane.
Thank you for sharing your insight on this process, Robin and Nora. It sounds like the Archer had quite recuperation under the Curatorial Chickee.
If you would like to see the Archer back in action, take a stroll to our Village grounds. The Village is located at the halfway point of our mile long boardwalk. He is the quiet type, but the ladies and gentleman working in the village will gladly talk with you.